by Fungai Munetsi
Waste pickers in the informal economy are providing critical and essential services towards mitigating climate change through recycling plastics and trash cans. The informal waste pickers play an important role in waste management that cannot easily be taken up by the formal waste management system. Nkosilati Khumalo a ZCIEA Member from Kwekwe is an informal waste picker who started his carrier in 2008 in South Africa where he used to collect high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastics, and cardboard boxes for recycling. He returned to his home in Kwekwe in August 2013. In early 2014 Nkosilati Khumalo driven by the need to earn an honest living, identified other waste pickers who were specializing in collecting low-density polyethylene (LDPE) plastic and cardboard boxes. He then introduced a collection of high-density polyethylene plastics to waste pickers in Kwekwe where he resides.
After collecting plastics and cardboard boxes, Nkosilati and his colleagues have to endure high transport costs to ferry their products to Waverly Plastics in Harare and Tregers Plastics who then recycle the plastics to produce 5 litre plastics water containers, plastic water tanks, poly pipes, and hose pipes. Cardboard boxes are ferried to Kadoma Paper Mills for recycling to produce khaki covers, tissues, and books. Nkosilati highlighted several challenges which waste pickers face and these are as follows: lack of recognition by local authorities even though waste pickers play an essential role in making the environment clean and mitigate climate change, unavailability of workspaces. Waste pickers bemoan the lack of funding to buy equipment like bailing machines which make it easier and cheaper to transport their plastics because bailing machines can compress 5 or more loads of plastics to one load.
However, working as an informal waste picker in Zimbabwe is often subject to social stigma, poor working conditions. Nkosilati Khumalo was introduced to the Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Associations (ZCIEA) in 2018 by ZCIEA Treasurer General Givas Marirmba. After joining ZCIEA, Nkosilati started raising awareness to other waste pickers on the importance of being organized into an association.
ZCIEA Treasurer General Givas Maririmba urged the local authorities and government to recognize the waste pickers throughout the country because recycling is one of the cheapest, fastest ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. He further stated the reusing and recycling of materials decreases the number of virgin materials needed for production, conserving natural resources and energy while reducing air and water pollution.
Climate change is inevitable, therefore, everyone should make every effort to have a clean environment even for future generations. As Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Associations (ZCIEA), we urge everyone in the informal economy to be actively involved and adopt best practices to reduce the greenhouse effect and pollution.